.  .  .

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink. . . .

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The human race has managed to hang an albatross around its neck – the prospect of depleting potable water supplies due to over-development, global warming, and industrial and agricultural pollution. The solution involves not only reversing the trends toward the depletion and pollution of clean water sources in our natural environment, but also involves a fundamental shift in mainstream attitudes towards the view that potable water is a precious resource to be used sparingly and wisely. We don’t want to find ourselves, like that ancient mariner of old, adrift in a harsh climate with nothing to drink.

Identifying the problem

Wasting potable water. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the mean per capita indoor daily water use in today’s homes is slightly over 64 gallons (256 gallons a day for a family of four) – enough to fill a standard bathtub 3 times per person. If you have a landscaped garden with an irrigation system your water use may increase by 37%.  Of that use, the toilet and clothes washer make up the largest portions being at 26% and 22% respectively, with faucets (17%), showers (16%) and leaks (14%) at almost the same level.  Dishwashers account for a negligible 1%, and baths and other uses are 1% each. Implementing water conservation measures can reduce usage to fewer than 45 gallons a day.

At 168 Clinton St., our case study green brownstone renovation (see our 168 Clinton St. blog) we measured that, in order for the hot water being heated in the cellar to reach the shower on the top/5th floor, we ran through 4 gallons of water before the hot water reached the tap (when the temperature was 45° outdoors). Now if this occurs twice a day, once in the morning for showers and once at night for children’s baths, then 8 gallons daily, 56 gallons weekly, and 2,912 gallons annually of potable water are swirling down the drain -- that’s enough drinking water to serve the needs of a family of four, each of whom drinks 8 glasses of water a day, for 4 years, and that’s not even counting all the other daily water usage that can lead to waste. Inefficient hot water delivery systems endemic to brownstones puts them way above the national average of 14% wasted water that passes through a typical household. 

Overtaxing sewer systems. There are also larger environmental issues at stake because wasted water taxes sewer systems. NYC (and many cities) does not have separate storm water and waste water sewer systems and drains, rather the rain water flows into the waste water sewer. Waste water sewer lines are typically smaller in diameter than storm water sewer lines, storm water lines being larger to accommodate rain inundations that are irrelevant for waste sewer purposes. In Brooklyn in particular this is a serious issue because, due to the very high water table, one inch of rain causes the shared sewer to overflow, and this water is a mixture of rain and waste water -- I always marveled how, on my street in Park Slope which was at the top of the slope on a park block, water would simply flow down the street like a stream, gushing along the curb and cascading in (dare I say lovely) wavy ripples across the asphalt. Also, with a shared sewer system the rain water, which does not need to be treated, is being channeled to the sewage treatment plant unnecessarily. The sewage treatment plants are not designed for the inundating volumes of water that rush in during a heavy storm and the proverbial floodgates must be opened, allowing mixed rain and untreated waste water to flow into the harbor because there is nowhere else for it to go. Water conservation measures are essential; they can keep water out of the sewer system.